God’s instruction manual
By Cardinal Wilfrid Napier OFM
Last week I aimed to explain what God has to do with morals and service delivery. Allow me to explain further.
The first truth revealed to us about God is that he is a God of order, of harmony and of peace—the very things that we human beings need in order to live in peace and harmony. That order, harmony and peace are achieved by good and upright moral behaviour, by mutual acceptance and respect, by a clear sense of duty and responsibility and above all by what we commonly call the “political will” to do what is just and fair, what is right and true. These are absolute essentials for peaceful and harmonious human relations, and they derive from our knowledge, understanding and appreciation of God’s place in our life and our place in God’s life.
Order, harmony and peace can and must be achieved by accepting and observing the basic rules for truly human living, which we call the Ten Commandments. They are our Maker’s instructions, revealed to us so that we know exactly how to relate to God and to our fellow man. What this means is that when we love God, we are simply living out a God-given instinct planted in us to prepare us for life with others. It is that instinct that disposes us for mutual love towards both God and our neighbour.
Jesus put it like this: “Love God totally with all your mind and heart and soul, and love your neighbour as you love yourself. Indeed you must go one better: Love one another as I have loved you, and I have given my life for you.” For us therefore, it is this love relationship between God and us that is the solid foundation upon which our society must be built; putting in place a system of morality, which enables us to distinguish clearly and easily between good and evil, right and wrong, true and false.
Note, however, that we have to commit ourselves equally firmly to order and live our lives according to the norms of that moral system.
While it is true that we human beings can and do acquire the knowledge and understanding of morality from the “natural law” (that human reason can deduce to be the good, the right and the true that must be done, the evil, the wrong and the false that must be avoided), because human nature—the human heart and mind—has been corrupted by sin and evil, we will not always make the correct judgement. For that reason we still need “divine law”, which has been revealed to us by God as “operating instructions” which we must follow to reach our full human potential.
Since our concern here is morality (right/wrong, good/evil, true/false) and service delivery (carrying out our human and social obligations towards others), it is necessary to consider marriage and the family, first and foremost since they are the most basic of all human relationships. These two relationships are absolutely crucial for the well-being of society. Sad to say these two key institutions of society are in deep crisis, and as a result, so is society.
So, what I propose is that government and civil service take it upon themselves, as individuals and as vital agents of service to the people, to examine what policies, rules and regulations as well as actions as individuals and as agents of government are doing to the family and to marriage. In other words, do they conform to the norms set out in our “Maker’s instructions”?
Several major challenges arise from this. The first is to sort out the mess in relationships at the level of these two basic institutions, namely relations between a man and a woman in marriage, then between parents and children in the family. In my opinion action in this area is the “sine qua non” for a healthy society, made up of men and women who know and accept who they are and who know and accept the duties and responsibilities that flow from who they are. This means putting the family where it belongs—first on our list of priorities. This is what we will do if we take note of what God has revealed.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier is the archbishop of Durban. This is the second of three articles on faith and the common good.